Vehicle electrification may be on the rise, but EVs won’t be knocking internal-combustion cars and trucks off their perch anytime soon (especially withas of late). Until that transition happens, the majority of America’s drivers will remain beholden to the network of gasoline stations across the nation to keep our cars, trucks and SUVs running.
It’s fair to say that most motorists probably don’t give much thought to the quality of a gas station unless it stands out as either significantly better than the average or upsettingly terrible. After all, you’re just making a quick pit stop for fuel and coffee, right? Why go out of your way? The fact is, all those short trips add up over time, and the quality of your local fill-up spot not only has an effect on your car, but your personal satisfaction, too.
Oh, one more thing before we begin.
Coronavirus-era fueling pro tips
You’re likely avoiding being out in public during the pandemic as much as possible, and that’s smart. But there will undoubtedly be times where you have to drive to get essentials, and that might also mean you need to refuel your ride. In addition to wearing gloves to handle the pump and having hand sanitizer handy, in this time of, you might want to strongly consider downloading a smartphone app for your gas stations of choice. With most of these apps, you can pay from inside your car, meaning you won’t have to touch potentially contaminated gas-pump card scanners, keypads and receipts. Plus, by not going into the convenience store, you’ll be less tempted to grab a diet-busting candy bar or sugary soda. It’s a win-win.
How we came up with this list
To make it easier for you to choose where to fill up, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 best gas-station brands for you and your ride. How did we come up with this list? By looking at four important factors: fuel quality, number of service stations (ubiquity), overall customer satisfaction and credit card reward programs.
Top Tier gasoline — yes, there is a difference
Let’s start with your car. While there are stringent rules regulating what goes into your fuel tank, those standards still don’t necessarily mean you’re being offered the best fuel. That’s where Top-Tier gas comes in. Top-Tier-rated gasoline contains a concentration of added detergents that are higher than the minimum amount specified by the EPA. This can result in a cleaner engine and overall improved performance, both in terms of output and fuel economy. Don’t take our word for it, either. This 2016 study from AAA (PDF) goes into detail about how Top-Tier detergent gasoline can make a real difference in quality without impacting your wallet to a significant degree. To that end, we’ve ruled out any company that hasn’t committed to using Top-Tier-rated gas universally (e.g. 7-Eleven).
For customer service, we’ve looked to GasBuddy’s top 101 Fuel and Convenience Brand reports for Q3 2019 and its 2019 Best of the Best roundup. These reports examine over 8.3 million ratings and reviews submitted in the GasBuddy fuel pricing and navigation app, as well as an analysis of 94 million consumer visits to stations. Its findings analyze criteria such as customer service, cleanness, lighting and even how their coffee stacks up. For the purposes of this list, we took the largest chains (most with 4,000-plus locations) with the best overall experience scores and ranked them accordingly.
BP recently shuttered its old awards program and instituted BPme, an app-based gas rewards program that allows members to save 5 cents per gallon at any of its 7,200 locations. As long as you’re spending over $100 per month, there’s no cap to the bonus.
The company also offers two credit cards. The standard one adds a 1% cash-back bonus to the BPme rewards on any nonfuel purchases at participating stations. The higher-tier BP Visa credit card takes 10 cents off per gallon, earns 3% cash back on groceries and 1% cash back on any purchase made outside of a BP station.
BP scored particularly well in GasBuddy’s customer service metrics, and garnered midpack scores in outdoor lighting and restrooms to help it take the overall crown.
Of America’s largest nationwide chains, Chevron scores the highest points in overall customer satisfaction. Its reach spans over 7,800 stores, and while some gas stations offer convenient food marts, one location in North Hollywood goes above and beyond gasoline. It’s the home of Cilantro Mexican Grill, one of the highest-rated burrito spots in California’s San Fernando Valley.
Frequent Chevron shoppers might consider becoming a Techron Advantage credit cardholder. Members can save up to 7 cents per gallon during fill-ups while those with the Visa Techron Advantage credit card can earn 10-to-20 cent bonuses, providing you make enough in monthly qualifying purchases.
Both Exxon and Mobil have “more than 11,000” branded gas stations nationwide, so it’s a safe bet that you’ll come across one in your travels. While you’re there, you can thank Mobil for saving you time, as it was the first gasoline retailer to introduce payment at the pump. The Exxon Mobil rewards program will allow you to save 3 to 6 cents per gallon as you accrue points from in-store purchases. Further, the company’s Rewards Plus app allows you to pay for gas purchases from inside your car and track your savings.
Signing up for an Exxon Mobil Smart Card gas rewards credit card automatically offers savings of 6 cents per gallon, with no minimum purchase. The Citibank-issued card includes online account management as well as monthly itemization for tracking gas spending.
Mobil stores ranked No. 2 for cleanliness (behind Chevron) and restrooms, but the chain fell to the No. 5 position in Gasbuddy’s survey for coffee, so if you’re a java junkie, you might want to look elsewhere.
With over 14,000 locations, Shell is the gas station chain that boasts America’s largest national presence. According to GasBuddy respondents, however, its overall customer service is middling. Like some rivals, Shell does have a robust rewards program that allows members to earn 5-, 10- or 20 cent-per-gallon discounts through everyday gas station purchases, and it ranked well for outdoor lighting.
Shell’s Fuel Rewards credit cards can also save you money at the pump. Both gas cards offer either 5 or 10 cents of savings per gallon of gasoline, depending on the card, but both are capped at 20 gallons. They also offer 10% rebates on some non-Shell eligible purchases, while the Mastercard has additional rebate options for dining and other qualifying purchases. Conveniently, discounts earned through the rewards program stack with the ones provided by the credit card.
You’ll find Marathon’s 5,600 branded fuel stations throughout the Midwest, South and Northeast. Though not as big of a network as some of its competitors, this gas company holds its own, netting a GasBuddy customer-service ranking above Shell and Chevron.
Marathon no longer has a credit card available, which is a shame, because it saved 25 cents per gallon. Currently, members of the Make It Count rewards program can save 5 cents per gallon just by participating.
Gas-station toy collectors miffed at Marathon’s 2014 purchase of Hess can take solace that Marathon still sells its own truck replicas year round (though they can still camp out at hesstoytruck.com for holiday releases). They can also enjoy a cup of above-average gas station coffee.
For one of the largest gasoline retailers, Exxon skirts the bottom of GasBuddy’s overall satisfaction report for larger gas station chains. Like its twin brand Mobil, Exxon’s rewards program saves customers more per gallon if they buy premium fuel.
Though the brand has a low ranking, 58 million drivers still fuel up their cars, trucks and SUVs on a monthly basis at one of its locations. The Exxon Mobil Smart Card gas credit card will save you 6 cents per gallon at these locations just as it does at any Mobil, along with a handful of other bonus rewards benefits.
Wearing the source of its fossil fuels proudly as a badge, Sinclair has the highest customer satisfaction ranking of any entry on our list. Operating with just over 1,500 locations in 29 states, you won’t find Sinclair’s fabled dinosaur logo everywhere, but when you do, it’s likely to be your best bet.
Holders of Sinclair’s Green Card gas rewards card don’t currently benefit from instant savings at the pump, but the card does act as a multipurpose, no-interest account sans any bank hassle. It, like other cards, can be paired with the Dinopay app, a helpful tool that makes transactions safe and easy.
Whereas Sinclair had the highest customer service rating on our list, Sunoco has the lowest, having just missed the lower three spots.
Still, Top Tier gasoline and a network of around 5,322 stores put Sunoco higher than most stations out there. If it’s going to be your go-to fuel spot, signing up for a Sunoco Rewards credit card has a 5 cents per gallon rewards rate savings, with no limits or restrictions.
Spot the iconic orange ball of a 76 gas station, and you’re in good hands. With the third-best customer service ranking on our list, the station only operates 1,800 stores, but it’s worth making it your-go to if one is nearby.
Not only does 76 supply customers with Top-Tier gas, its rewards credit card can shave off 10 cents per gallon of gasoline. Combine that with the My 76 mobile app, and you earn a bonus 15-cent savings for the first 30 gallons. The app itself is a pretty handy tool for storing different payment options like Google Pay and Apple Pay.
Operating primarily on the West Coast, Arco stations are notable for their low fuel prices and not accepting credit cards. While some Arco gas station owners have recently changed this policy, those come with transaction fees that might not be apparent right up front. Either way, the Top-Tier gasoline quality and price will be hard to top.
One last gas station pro tip
Gasbuddy ranks Fridays as the busiest day of the week at our nation’s gas stations, with 5 p.m. being the busiest hour of the week, followed by 4 p.m. and 12 p.m. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds — a particularly sensible move during this COVID-19 era — you might want to consider refueling on days other than payday.
Written by Alex Kalogiannis for Roadshow.